Environmental Trends and Influential Factors
Consideration of the above assumptions helped drive the identification of strategic goals. However, as CUL maps out and develops its strategic vision, it must also give due consideration to trends and factors that may affect our ability to be successful in the future. To this end, the strategic planning group reviewed numerous reports, white papers and national surveys to seek out potential trends and influencing factors. These include trends in the ways individuals seek and use information, patterns of change in the ways libraries respond to and adapt their services to user needs and expectations, and technological advances (particularly as these affect the publishing and music industries.) The following environmental trends and influential factors are highlighted as having high potential for changing both the way CUL operates and the performance expectations the campus community may place on CUL.
• Student Behavioral Trends
Most students entering colleges and universities today are younger than the personal computer, are more comfortable working on a keyboard than writing in a spiral notebook, and are happier reading from a computer screen than from a piece of paper. Constant connectivity – being in touch with friends and family at any time and from any place – is of utmost importance to most young adults. Many information searches that traditionally used physical library spaces and resources now occur more familiarly on the Internet. CUL has already begun to address these trends by creating a very successful 24/7 library in the Fondren Library Center, connected via wireless and hardwired computers, providing any time/any place connectivity.
Student expectations for faster and greater access to services are documented in Neil Howe and William Strauss’ “Millennials Go to College: Strategies for a New Generation on Campus” (2003). This study reports that the college students of today have much higher expectations for college services of all types, including library services, than did their parents. College students still use the library, but they use it less often than did their predecessors, often substituting Internet research capabilities for library research resources. When asked how they identify with campus libraries, students are most likely to identify “books” as being the product they most associate with a library. However, when questioned about specific library services used, students are frequently using more electronic resources than print materials. Furthermore, the current generation of college students tends to prefer visual information to text information, which will have an impact on how we design our web pages. CUL should focus some considerable attention on marketing its services and rebranding itself.
Stephen Abram and Judy Luther (2004) describe how the members of the Millennial Generation differ from Baby Boomers, and identify nine Millennial Generation behavioral traits and their effect on library services. According to Abram and Luther, Millennials do not differentiate information on the basis of format or media type, do expect information and entertainment to be available to them whenever they need it and wherever they are, multitask and expect all information appliances to support multitasking, and see content and technology as inseparable. Further, Jill Taylor-Roe (2006) noted that “the success of e-journals means that many users now expect 24/7 access to a much wider range of library resources.”
Faced with the prospect that both students and faculty will increasingly want primary access to information online, CUL must become more e-consumer friendly, and less dependent on traditional means of delivering services. Furthermore, CUL must develop a means of monitoring and evaluating user behavior, and must be responsive to behavioral changes.
• Digital Technology
Libraries across the country are placing increasing emphasis on digitizing collections, preserving digital archives, and improving methods of data storage, retrieval, curation, and service. Public awareness of the issues associated with large-scale digitization projects has grown as an increasing number of libraries have signed on as partners in projects such as the Open Content Alliance and the Google Book Search Library Project. Publishers continue to develop extensive digital collections, moving beyond electronic versions of existing collections into the creation and marketing of digital collections the publishers themselves have created. The University of Michigan library system has installed the very first Espresso Book Machine for patrons to generate print books from its digitized books in the Google project. For CUL, developing our own digital collections to ‘open up’ previously hidden collections (as opposed to simply licensing access to content created by others), establishing institutional repository programs, adopting advanced search technologies, and creating more robust tools for scholarly use of digital content are a necessity. At the same time, CUL must develop ways to handle information that was ‘born digital’ and be more aggressive in creating digital archives that are accessible on the web.
The digitization of most media sources has liberated faculty from having to deal with multiple pieces of equipment and formats. However, this unshackling of media from their original formats has also separated the content from the creator, often bypassing copyright restrictions along the way. CUL must be assertive in assisting faculty with this transition while at the same time safeguarding copyright protections. We must also remember to use our acquisitions resources wisely and take care that we do not find ourselves in a mode of constant reformatting, or repurchasing in a different format.
• Professional Requirements for Librarians
The skill set necessary for librarians will continue to evolve in response to the changing needs and expectations of the populations served. The professional background of library staff will need to become increasingly diverse in order to support expanded international programs and administrative needs, assisting the University in its quest to become more global in its reach. A study conducted by Kennan, Cole, and Willard in 2006 analyzed job openings from 1974, 1984, 1994, and 2004, and found that librarians today are expected to have a broader range of skills than in the past. Specifically, the researchers noted a marked increase in the need for skills in Web design and the use of electronic resources, as well as for interpersonal and teamwork skills. At the same time, in 2006, James Neal (Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian at Columbia University) introduced a new dimension to the discussion by identifying an increasing need to incorporate individuals with professional backgrounds outside the library field such as economics, anthropology and public policy into the academic library. Doing so, he argues, brings a greater level of richness and diversity to the traditional set of skills associated with academic libraries.
In recognition of this trend for greater levels of professional skills, CUL has placed a priority on enhancing the skills and competencies of its professional library staff, and going outside traditional professional forums when hiring new staff.
• Demand for Access to Research Data
Demand for free public access to data collected and research completed as part of publicly funded research programs is likely to continue to grow. Recent literature on Open Access (OA) reflects the extensive growth of this relatively new movement to make publicly funded scientific research freely available. High profile OA initiatives like Highwire Press, Public Library of Science (PLoS), BioMedCentral, and others have attracted the attention of scholars interested in supporting improved publishing models.
The battle between OA proponents and the publishing industry is escalating. The Association of American Publishers recently hired a public relations consultant (who is famous for using “media messaging”) to shape the climate change debate, to assist it in shaping the debate on OA. However, many publishers support OA in one form or another and are experimenting with a variety of business models. Some publishers have hybrid programs that give authors the option of paying to make their articles freely accessible. Others are altering subscription models to give free access to older journal content. This multifaceted and contentious issue will likely continue to get coverage in the professional literature over the next several years. CUL must work to educate faculty and administrators alike about the ramifications of these debates for research and potential funding and access issues.
• Trend Toward Greater Accountability in Higher Education
Throughout the country, institutions of higher learning are being asked to account for their operations – to their constituents, to their governing boards, and to their donors. Within the university, all units are being held more accountable and being asked to document their return on the University’s financial investment. This trend has challenged libraries over the years to demonstrate the value-added effects of large investments in electronic resources, technology and – most recently – in an old technology, print books! CUL must avail itself of better data gathering tools and hire staff with strengths in statistical analysis to document usage of both resources and facilities. This will aid in both justifying current expenditures and strategically directing funds to high use research areas.